No common sense in PSL fixture list

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The fans were always going to favour the derby above any other match, says the writer.

One has to wonder about the Premier Soccer League’s concern over disappointing crowd attendances at their matches.

While they just can’t stop telling us how the PSL is among the top 10 football leagues in the world, the men and women who run the country’s biggest sport at elite level clearly don’t give a hoot about the fans.

You see it in their fixture list which often tells a story of people who couldn’t be bothered about getting bums on seats.

Take Saturday, for example. There were six league matches played, three of them within a radius of 20km of Johannesburg/Soweto.

None of the PSL members will deny that the Soweto derby between Pirates and Chiefs is the country’s biggest crowd-puller as evidenced by the near full house at the FNB Stadium.

Why the PSL fixtured Wits against Free State Stars at the same time, just a few minutes away at Milpark, defies logic. Granted Wits ordinarily don’t pull big crowds, but the decision to play that match when the derby was on was tantamount to sentencing that fixture to being played behind closed doors.

And then, just a few hours later at 8pm, you had Moroka Swallows hosting AmaZulu at Dobsonville Stadium.

Logic should surely have told the PSL that the choice match for most football fans would be the derby and that not many people would go to another match later in the evening after that, especially not in the same township – Soweto.

But then again, why should they be bothered about crowds. After all, unlike in the past when gate takings were the main revenue stream, PSL clubs have a cash cow in the form of television.

The multi-billion rand deal with SuperSport has ensured that the clubs’ coffers remain pretty full despite their dismal failure to attract fans to their matches.

And it is fast becoming clear that the league would rather please their television partners (no, make that financiers).

Fixture lists are drawn up mainly with television in mind, leading to ridiculous situations, such as yesterday’s, with all the big matches, leaving today with a mere two bottom-tier fixtures, both of them outside Gauteng. Surely it would have made sense to have had the Wits match, or even the Swallows one, played today instead.

But no, television dictates! The SABC had to have their Saturday evening match and SuperSport needed their three matches on Saturday – hence the crazy fixturing.

A football fan would no doubt rather stay at home than go to the stadium, especially given the poor fare dished out on the fields of the league that purports itself to be among the top 10 in the world.

After all, in doing so (staying home), he or she will get to watch no fewer than four local league matches on the telly. But is that what we really want?

I would rather we had crowds similar to what we experienced at the FNB on Saturday, a vibrant atmosphere that encourages players to give off their best. Ask any player and he will tell you that playing in a near-empty stadium just does not inspire.

A full stadium also makes for brilliant TV and the PSL will have good reason to go back to SuperSport and demand a little more for the TV rights, as well as asking the likes of Absa, MTN, Telkom and Nedbank to increase their sponsorships at the next negotiations.

They will have a better product to sell. And then they might be justified in terming ours one of the best leagues in the world. For now, the pathetic crowd turn-outs tell a story of a lowly league, and the men and women running it are to blame. – Sunday Independent


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